Joseph Hooker Clabaugh
20 Years of Service
by Priscilla Rall
Joe Clabaugh’s life is woven into our community’s history beginning with his grandfather, J. Hooker Lewis, from the Garfield and Foxville area, who owned five local orchards. He bought one from a German family whose house was located where Mountain Gate Restaurant is now. It was part stone, part log, and the German family kept their animals in the lower level of the home! When J. Hooker’s daughter, Carrie, married Joseph Elmer Clabaugh, this young family moved into the old farmhouse. J. Hooker and his wife moved into a home where the Kountry Kitchen is now.
The farmstead had a smokehouse where the Clabaughs cured hams and bacon from the hogs they raised and butchered, and a springhouse where they kept the milk, cream, and butter from their milk cows.
Carrie and Joseph had 10 children, but in 1929, their oldest daughter, Carrie, tragically died at four years old when she was hit by a car at the end of their lane. Their son, Richard, 13, died from blood poisoning when he was swept over the dam at Bentz’s pond and cut his leg. This was before antibiotics.
Their son, Joseph Hooker Clabaugh, was born in December 1919. Young Joe was kept busy bringing firewood into the house to feed the kitchen’s cookstove and the chunk stove in the living room. All the kids carried water from the well in the front yard into the house, as they had neither running water nor electricity.
Joe recalled riding their milk wagon to deliver the farm’s milk. Bob, the old black horse, knew all the stops by heart and never missed a one. Joe’s father never did drive a tractor or a car. He hewed to the old ways. His mother was “the best cook that ever hit this world.” She was well known for her homemade noodles and pot pie.
When Joe finished seventh grade, he quit school. He lied about his age and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). He worked in the camp at Green Ridge, 30 miles from Cumberland, just across the river from Paw Paw, West Virginia. His two older brothers joined the CCC as well. They all earned $25 a month. The government sent $20 home, and they kept just $5. After he left the CCC, Joe worked on a farm in Hansonville.
In 1937, he joined the U.S. Army. He trained at Ft. Belvoir in Virginia with Company D, 5th Engineers. He was discharged after suffering from a severe cut to his hand. Then he worked at a foundry in Baltimore, along with his cousin, Charles “Stud” Lewis, making piston rings. Later, he worked for Herman H. Fisher, driving a fuel truck from Baltimore to Detour.
During WWII, Joe attempted to enlist five times but was rejected due to his injured hand and classified 4F. It was a bitter blow to the family when his cousins, Gordon and Raymond Pryor, died while in the service. Cousin Harry “Buck” Lewis was shot and then captured on the Battle of the Bulge. Amazingly, he survived his captivity but was down to 100 pounds.
Joe then worked for several years at Hammaker’s, setting tombstones. In March 1946, the Air Force finally accepted him. By the first of April, he was on his way to the Philippine Islands. He was assigned to the motor pool in Manila. He saw first-hand the terrible destruction of this once beautiful city. There were still 40-50 ships sunk in the harbor, and most of the buildings were empty hulls. Later, he was assigned to the Field Police at Hickam Field, but was soon sent to Guam to serve in the Fire Department. From there, he went to Andrews Air Force Base, where he served for five years. He got home in February 1948, and in May, he married Shirley Long from Creagerstown.
Joe’s next orders were to Greenland, leaving his family, that now numbered three children, home. Greenland was quite a new experience for Joe. They often had “wind warnings” when you had to stay indoors or be blown away. No planes could land then, either. After 13 months, Joe was sent with his family to Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka, Kansas, as a fireman, where they spent two-and-a-half years. They experienced severe ice storms with large hail that put dents in everything exposed.
Finally, Joe got a wonderful assignment in Upper Hayfield, England, just 60 miles from London. He was able to take his daughter, Chris, to Holland for a memorable trip to a tulip festival.
In 1959, Joe was transferred to Bunker Hill, Indiana, where the “big boys,” the B 58s, were stationed. They carried the “big bombs,” but Joe refused to say anymore. “I ain’t telling you nothing.” This was the era of the Cold War, and Joe remembered a “hot day” when the airbase had 47 B57s lined up during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and they were on “high alert.”
Tech Sgt. J. Clabaugh retired from the Air Force in 1963, after 20 years and 1 month of military service. “I’m done!” The family returned to Thurmont, and Joe worked on the farm until George Black, the fire chief at Fort Ritchie, offered him a job. He worked there and at Site R for 17 years (9 years in the tunnel). During this time, the family lived in Shirley’s home with their five children, Chris, Jerry, Dennis, Billy, and Jimmy. Work was second nature to Joe, and after all of those years at Ft. Ritchie, he worked at Mount St. Mary’s until he finally retired for good.
The family moved from Creagerstown to New Cut Road and then finally to Longs Mill Road in Rocky Ridge. Joe and Shirley have been active volunteers at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Creagerstown, the Rocky Ridge Fire Department, and the American Legion in Thurmont. His volunteering only ended with his death in 2009. He earned his rest. Thank you for your service, TSgt. Clabaugh, and may you rest in peace, dear friend and neighbor.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran who is willing to tell his or her story, contact the Frederick County Veterans History Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos were taken in Manila after WWII while Joseph Clabaugh was stationed there.